Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:22d “. . .husbands, as unto the Lord.”
This does not mean the husband’s authority is equal to Christ’s. Wives are not to yield the same deference to husbands as they do to Jesus, the supreme Lord. Their submission to husbands is part of their duty to Christ. Submission is rendered ultimately not for the husband, but for the Lord.
When a wife willingly and sincerely submits to her husband, Jesus sees, is pleased, and accepts that submission as an offering presented unto Himself. Viewed in this way, submission becomes worship, a sacrament rather than a servility. Paul will now seek to explain the reason for wifely submission.
Eph. 5:23a “For the husband is the head of the wife,. . .”
“Head” here refers to being the leader, having authority over another. Notice the limit which is set on a wife’s submission. It is to her husband, not to all men. Wifely submission is not meant to be used as a tool to repress women. A woman has freedom to exert leadership and authority in the work-place. The guidelines taught in our text apply to the inner workings of a home.
Also, I reiterate the fact that the husband being the “head” and the wife being submissive does not imply inherent superiority and inferiority. Many sergeants and lieutenants are more gifted soldiers than their Colonel, but they know they must submit or there will be disarray. A committee’s first need is to appoint a chairperson. The chairperson may not be the most gifted committee member, but everyone knows to follow the leader, or nothing will get done.
Efficiency demands a leader. A house with many heads is a monster. A house with no head is a chaos; anarchy invites disaster. Dr. Ed Wheat, noted author, and father of our own Merry Ann Peoples, describes marriage as the most valuable institution on earth. I agree, and God, deeming marriage too valuable to put at risk, did not allow this wonderful jewel to drift aimlessly along on the tides of time. He Himself prescribed an effective form of management for marriage. The husband is to be the “head,” the wife is to submit.
To properly understand the reason for this prescribed relationship, we must go back to Eden before the Fall. God’s original ordinance provides us the accurate and fundamental understanding of the husband/wife relationship.
Before woman was created, man already existed, already had an occupation–Adam was “put into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (GN 2:15)–and already had begun to exercise dominion, to exert leadership; Adam named “every living creature” (GN 2:19). Thus, before woman was created, man already was a “head,” working and leading. Woman was created as a helper for the man (GN 2:18). Submission of a wife to her husband is the original arrangement, the divinely intended order of God. This is not to say Eve was inferior to Adam. She shares in his dominion over the creation (GN 1:26-28). The submission applied to her relationship within the marriage bond.
This first couple sets the example for all time to come. Husband was leading, Wife came to help, everyone was happy, all was well in paradise. Then something went wrong. Ever since Eden, women have often been oppressed, put down, relegated to sub-human classification. What happened? We know our loving God would never ordain such a thing. Sin is the culprit. Marriage went amok when evil entered the world. The holy husband/wife relationship became distorted. God said to fallen Eve, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (GN 3:16). “Desire” denotes an impelling urge, and implies wanting to possess and control. “Rule” connotes tyranny and oppression. After sin, wives sought to control and manipulate husbands, and husbands wanted to tyrannize wives. This battle has raged ever since.
The good news is, though sin perverted things, Jesus can undo its damage. Paul’s words are not addressed to everyone, but to Christians who want to please God. These standards are impossibly high to achieve in our own strength, but by being filled with the Spirit (EP 5:18) any couple can be restored to the original joy Adam and Eve shared before sin entered the picture.
Husbands have authority, but uncontrolled authority can lead to abuse. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus Paul will now clarify its limits.
Eph. 5:23b “. . .even as Christ is the head of the Church:. . .”
Husbands, Jesus is our divine role model. This is appropriate. He is a husband, His bride being the Church. “As Christ” lifts us above little details and propels us into the ultimate and eternal principle expressed in being a husband. Having Christ as our example lifts our understanding of husband-hood to a higher level. The husband’s role on earth is to mirror Christ’s role in Heaven. Thus, Paul presses ahead to describe Christ’s leadership style.
Eph. 5:23c “. . .and he is the savior of the body.”
What kind of “head” is Jesus? He leads as “the savior of the body.” To His “body,” the Church, He is “savior,” a word full of self-sacrificing love. What management style should husbands use? Servant-leadership, Savior-style.
Christ’s reign is not a tyrannical dictatorship, but a considerate, serving administration of love. “Christ’s rule is a rule for the advantage of the ruled” (Gore). Jesus safeguards His Church, looks after Her, cares for Her. He nourishes Her, cherishes Her, and supplies Her with every good thing.
Christ expresses His will with infinite tenderness. The Church feels His love and thus counts His laws as neither grievous nor burdensome. “The body” delights to obey Jesus, and never considers any other option. The family should follow this lovely model of sacrificial love eliciting joyful response.
Husbands, rule without domineering, lead without cracking the whip. Our families should see nothing but love in our every command. Every husband’s aspiration must be nothing less than to reproduce the savior-ship of Christ. Men, let us be the ever-diligent, self-denying protector, guardian, and deliverer of our families. The purpose of our authority is to safeguard, and to provide our wives with every necessity of life. With a vital interest in the wife’s welfare, the husband’s leadership must be “absolutely remote from all that is harsh or tyrannical or selfish” (Eerdman). Then, based on this unselfish love, and in joyful response to it, the wife is to offer free and loyal allegiance.
Jesus’ role as “head” of the Church was gained by virtue of His willingness to be first of all Her “Savior.” Head-ship is based on Savior-ship. A husband who abdicates his rightful role of sacrificial savior in essence abdicates any legitimate claim to be the head of his wife. God’s management style succeeds when each family member fulfills their ordained role willingly and well.